Miami Herald (Sunday)

Russian private army head claims control of Bakhmut, but Ukraine says fighting is still continuing

- BY SUSIE BLANN Associated Press


The head of the Russian private army Wagner claimed Saturday that his forces have taken control of the city of Bakhmut after the longest and most grinding battle of the RussiaUkra­ine war, but Ukrainian defense officials denied it.

In a video posted on Telegram, Wagner head Yevgeny Prigozhin said the city came under complete Russian control at about midday Saturday. He spoke flanked by about half a dozen fighters, with ruined buildings in the background and explosions heard in the distance.

However, after the video appeared, Ukrainian deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar said heavy fighting was continuing.

“The situation is critical,” she said. “As of now, our defenders, control certain industrial and infrastruc­ture facilities in this area.”

Serhiy Cherevatyi, spokesman for Ukraine’s eastern command, told The Associated Press that Prigozhin’s claim “is not true. Our units are fighting in Bakhmut.”

Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months.

If Russian forces take control of Bakhmut, they will still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.

It is not clear which side has paid a higher price in the battle for Bakhmut.

Both Russia and Ukraine have endured losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending Bakhmut in an interview with The Associated Press in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to rally internatio­nal support for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptab­le compromise­s.

Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but wouldn’t prove decisive to the outcome of the war.

Russian forces still face the enormous task of seizing the rest of the Donetsk region under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas. The provinces of Donetsk and neighborin­g Luhansk make up the Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland where a separatist uprising began in 2014 and which Moscow illegally annexed in September.

Bakhmut, located about 34 miles north of the Russian-held regional capital of Donetsk, had a prewar population of 80,000 and was an important industrial center, surrounded by salt and gypsum mines.

The city, which was named Artyomovsk after a Bolshevik revolution­ary when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, also was known for its sparkling wine production in undergroun­d caves. Its broad tree-lined avenues, lush parks and stately downtown with imposing late 19th century mansions — all now reduced to a smoldering wasteland — made it a popular tourist destinatio­n.

When a separatist rebellion engulfed eastern Ukraine in 2014 weeks after Moscow’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, the rebels quickly won control of the city, only to lose it a few months later.

After Russia switched its focus to the Donbas following a botched attempt to seize Kyiv early in the February 2022 invasion, Moscow’s troops tried to take Bakhmut in August but were pushed back.

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